Art

This Is What the Entire Known Universe Looks Like in a Single Image

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The farthest manmade thing from Earth is Voyager 1. Though this 1970s-era spacecraft is pretty far out there by now and still sending back information, it'll never be able to take a snapshot of the Solar System. Or the Milky Way. And definitely not the entire observable universe. But with a little math and artistic prowess, we can cobble together what we may look like from way, way, way out there.

You Are Here

In 2012, musician and artist Pablo Carlos Budassi created the illustration of all illustrations: a full-scale view of the entire observable Universe. The resulting image looks like a giant eyeball, with humanity square in the middle. In the image above, you'll see our sun and Solar System in the center, as you move outward you'll see the outer ring of the Milky Way, the Perseus arm of the Milky Way, a ring of nearby galaxies like Andromeda, the rest of the cosmic web, cosmic microwave background radiation leftover from the Big Bang, and, lastly, the Big Bang's leftover ring of plasma.

Art and Science

You may notice that the Earth looks weirdly large in comparison to pretty much every other object depicted. The reason is that Budassi created this image on a logarithmic scale, not the linear scale you usually see in astronomy images. If he didn't, the image would be impractically humongous — this is the entire universe we're talking about, after all. To get a better understanding of the scale, think of this flat image as a cone pointed straight at you. The sun is at the tip. Each section of the cone further away from you represents a field of view several orders of magnitude larger than the one before it.

Budassi was able to do this by collecting maps, photographs, and data from Princeton researchers and NASA. In 2005, a team of Princeton researchers published a collection of logarithmic maps of the Universe in Astrophysical Journal (you can see them here). While they look more like charts than they do rich photographs, the researchers were able to accurately "display the entire range of astronomical scales from the Earth's neighborhood to the cosmic microwave background" to a logarithmic scale. Using this information, Budassi put together "Photoshop using images from NASA and some textures created [on] my own." The final result? Our weirdly eyeball-looking, not-exactly-to-scale-but-maybe-the-best-we-can-do-for-now Universe.

To learn more about why the universe is flat, check out the course "The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries" by our partner The Great Courses Plus. Get a sneak peek below, and watch the rest of this video when you start a free trial here.

Why the Universe Is Flat

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Written by Joanie Faletto February 13, 2018

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